Privacy International lines up US firms for GDPR breaches

UK data protection and privacy advocacy group Privacy International has submitted complaints to European watchdogs suggesting GDPR violations at several US firms including Oracle, Equifax and Experian.

The complaints have been submitted to regulators in the UK, Ireland and France, bringing the data broker activities of Oracle and Acxiom into question, as well as ad-tech companies Criteo, Quantcast and Tapad, and credit referencing agencies Equifax and Experian. The complaints are specifically focused on the depth of personal data processing, which Privacy International believes violates Articles five and six of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“It’s been more than five months since the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect,” a Privacy International statement read. “Fundamentally, the GDPR strengthens rights of individuals with regard to the protection of their data, imposes more stringent obligations on those processing personal data, and provides for stronger regulatory enforcement powers – in theory. In practice, the real test for GDPR will be in its enforcement.

“Nowhere is this more evident than for data broker and ad-tech industries that are premised on exploiting people’s data. Despite exploiting the data of millions of people, are on the whole non-consumer facing and therefore rarely have their practices challenged.”

The GDPR Articles in question relate to the collection and processing of information. Article Five dictates a company has to be completely transparent in how it collects and processes information, but also the reasons for doing so. Reasonable steps must be taken to ensure data is erased once the purpose has been fulfilled, this is known as data minimisation. Article Six states a company must seek consent from the individual to collect and process information for an explicit purpose; broad brush collection, storage and continued exploitation of data is being tackled here.

In both articles, the objective is to ensure companies are being specific in their collection of personal information, and that it is utilised in a timely manner before being deleted once it has served its purpose. These are two of the articles which will hit the data-sharing economy the hardest, and it will be interesting to see how stringently GDPR will be enforced if there is any evidence of wrong-doing.

This is where Privacy International is finding issue with the firms. The advocacy group is challenging the business practises on the principles of transparency, fairness, lawfulness, purpose limitation,

data minimisation, accuracy and integrity and confidentiality. It is also requesting further investigations into Articles 13 and 14 (the right to information), Article 15 (the right of access), Article 22 (automated decision making and profiling), Article 25 (data protection and by design and default) and Article 35 (data protection impact assessments).

While GDPR sounds very scary, the reality is no-one has been punished to the full extent of the regulation yet. This might be because every company has taken the guidance on effectively and is operating entirely within the legal parameters, though we doubt this is the case. It is probably a case of no-one being caught yet.

The threat of a €20 million fine, or one which is up to 3% of a business’ total revenues, is nothing more than a piece of paper at the moment. If there is no evidence or fear authorities will punish to the full extent of the law, GDPR doesn’t act as much of a protection mechanism or a deterrent. When a genuine violation of GDPR is uncovered, Europe needs to bear its teeth and demonstrate there will be no breathing room.

This has been the problem for years in the technology industry; fines have been dished out, though there has been no material impact on the business. The staggering growth of revenues in the industry has far exceeded the ability of regulators to act as judge and executioner. Take the recent fines for Apple and Samsung over planned obsolescence in Italy. The $10 million and $5 million fines for Apple and Samsung would have taken 20 and 16 minutes respectively to pay off. This is not good enough.

Regulators now have the authority to hold the suspect characters in the industry accountable for nefarious actions concerning data protection and privacy, but it has to prove itself capable of wielding the axe. Until Europe shows it has a menacing side, nothing will change for the better.

Oracle has a crack at ending the idea of employees

Oracle is making all the right noises ahead of Mobile World Congress with an aggressive expansion in data centre assets, a virtual assistant and a broader offering across its autonomous product portfolio.

In October the team launched what it claimed was the world’s first autonomous database cloud and today’s announcement spreads the AI features to the rest of the Oracle world. The cloud database, naughtily known as 18c, was claimed to eliminate the human labour associated with tuning, patching, updating and maintaining the database, and now the team are taking these capabilities to the rest of developer cloud platform.

“The future of tomorrow’s successful enterprise IT organization is in full end-to-end automation,” said Oracle President of Product Development Thomas Kurian. “At Oracle, we are making this a reality. We are weaving autonomous capabilities into the fabric of our cloud to help customers safeguard their systems, drive innovation faster, and deliver the ultimate competitive advantage with smarter real-time decisions.”

While most companies will preach about the importance of their employees they are in fact the biggest burden on the spreadsheets. Humans make errors, need rest, get ill and cost a lot of money, Oracle is offering a solution to executives who want to be more profitable; use our products and get rid of some of your employees. And while this might sound very doom and gloom, it should come as very little surprise.

Technology is all about efficiency, productivity and performance; the promise is to enhance these metrics in your organization. Efficiency means spending less, productivity means doing more, or having a smaller number of people do a greater share of the jobs and performance means doing better. Automated cloud ensures that you tick all three boxes. Jobs are done quicker, less people are paid to do them and generally they are done better. Efficiency, productivity and performance gains mean less people involved.

Examples of the new automated products include automated application development (artifact discovery, dependency management, and policy-based dependency updates), self-learning chatbots, self-defining application and data integration for business process management tools, automated data discovery, preparation and analysis, user and entity behaviour analytics to automatically isolate and eliminate threats to the organization. It certainly is quite a comprehensive list.

To top it all off, Oracle has also introduced a digital assistant to converse across the user’s CRM, ERP, HCM, custom applications and business intelligence data. The assistant is also laden with machine learning algorithms to correlate data and automate user behaviour. It’s automation at its finest and scariest. What’s the point in having a workforce when Oracle’s software can do it all for you.

To complete the announcement, Oracle has also announced that it will be expanding its data centre footprint quite dramatically. 12 new data centre regions will be available across the world offering the full suite of Oracle software.

“The future of IT is autonomous. With our expanded, modern data centres, Oracle is uniquely suited to deliver the most autonomous technologies in the world,” said Oracle CEO Mark Hurd. “As we invest, our margins will continue to expand. And with our global data centre expansion, we are able to help customers lower IT costs, mitigate risks and compete like they never have before.”

In Asia the new assets will be in China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Korea, and Amsterdam and Switzerland in Europe. Two new regions will be opened in Canada and two new US locations will be added to support US Department of Defence workloads.

How telcos are revitalising their business with improved customer experience periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Lenns, Vice President, Policy Products at Oracle Communications, celebrates the improving fortunes of some operators and looks at what might be behind it.

The European telecoms sector is undergoing a resurgence. French telco Orange has recorded its best quarter of growth in a decade while Spain’s Telefónica recently upgraded its revenue projections for 2017.

This marks a turning point for an industry that has struggled in recent years with falling revenues per user and price-sensitive consumers that are more prone to switching providers and less inclined to believe there is much to differentiate between competing when it comes to service. Indeed, a survey from Oracle Communications found that the only thing stopping 39 per cent of consumers from switching is that they believe competing Communications Service Providers (CSPs) will offer equally poor levels of service.

Success in today’s market hinges on a company’s ability to deliver a high quality personalised service, but achieving this and overcoming consumer apathy is no small task, particularly as over-the-top apps and software developers grow their market share and set new standards for digital customer experience. However, the investment is starting to pay off for CSPs such as Orange and Telefónica.

As Orange CEO Stéphane Richard commented after the company’s Q2 earnings announcement, “[Our] strategy… which centred on giving customers an unbeatable experience through convergence around the home and a quality network, is now yielding results”.

Getting more out of customer data

At the core of more personalised services is a better understanding of customers and the data they generate. For instance, Telefónica is using big data to better understand the usage patterns of its television audiences, which in turn allows it to offer people tailored recommendations based on their history, the context they are watching in, and even the time of day.

Telefónica’s deep customer understanding is also invaluable to advertisers and media distributors, who are intent on tailoring content to their audiences. By sharing anonymised “television intelligence” with content providers, Telefonica has found a way to further monetise its network while also winning over customers with a more relevant service.

Moving towards a virtual network

Keeping up with changing customer habits and technological change is a top priority that requires CSPs to quickly develop and roll out new services. This in turn demands new ways of working, which is why Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) and cloud-based systems continue to gain momentum among leading telcos.

Recent research from Oracle found that of CSPs that have already begun their shift to virtualised networks, 60 per cent expect this will help them improve their customer experience with new digital services. Seventy-one per cent believe a communications cloud will allow them to simplify their operations so they can achieve roll these services out more quickly and efficiently.

The transition to virtualised networks and the cloud is not a question of “if” but “when”. Those providers which have embraced change are not only seeing benefits in the way they work today but also gaining a significant head start in the eyes of customers.

Building a strong foundation

Even as CSPs look to strengthen their market position through new data-driven services, they cannot afford to forget the basics of great customer experience, which is where many disruptive competitors are raising the industry standard with simple and effective interfaces.

Customers value reliability above all else. Just as network coverage and consistent call quality were top priorities for mobile users in the pre-smartphone era, people now expect dependability from their data network. Without this, the “wow” factor of any new service is lost. After all, what good is a high definition media streaming app if videos hang and buffer, or a GPS app that cannot accurately pinpoint their location outside the city limits?

Simplicity and convenience are also crucial. People today have little patience for lengthy interactions with a service agent to manage even simple requests. To that end, Telefónica consolidated its customer databases onto a single system, reducing query times by 80% and improving self-service options for customer queries such as checking usage and billing.

The principles of customer service have not changed, but the channels, format and speed of change in the industry are virtually unrecognisable from just 10 years ago. This shift has come quickly and brought with it a host of new challenges, but CSPs are showing they can keep pace. By focussing on the foundations of excellent customer experience and capitalising on new technologies to deliver and build upon these, telcos can prove a positive start to 2017 is only the beginning of their resurgence.


John Lenns OracleJohn Lenns is Vice President of Policy Products at Oracle Communications. He is responsible for driving the evolution of Oracle Communications Network Signaling and Policy Management Products from traditional 3GPP use cases towards new use cases including IoT, 5G, Enterprise and Cloud to Ground Markets.